It can take a keen set of ears to tell when Chan Marshall is singing someone else's tune. Take her rendition of the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," which opens 2000's The Covers Record. Her voice dragging over spindly guitar, she sounds like a broken bird in a burned-out nest. Where the Stones' swaggering anthem was a hot-blooded rush, Marshall's version is hushed and dolorous, a wilted lily in an airless mausoleum.
There are always long gaps between Cat Power records. Chan Marshall's cozy yet faintly unnerving style--grounded by her guitar and distinctive vocal delivery--is not something that can be rushed. Her third covers album unfurls with an idling reflectiveness, as though she is sat on her living room floor browsing through her record collection for the perfect song to revise.
A Cat Power covers album has become something of a regular occasion now – in between Chan Marshall’s own eight albums of original material, she’s also released three volumes of her own takes on songs that are very personal to her, often drastically different to the original. Following The Covers Album in 2000 and 2008’s Jukebox, we now have Covers, which pretty much does what it says on the tin. Like the last two albums, the track listing is a mix of well known songs (such as The Pogues‘ A Pair Of Brown Eyes and Here Comes A Regular by The Replacements) together with some more surprising selections.
In the hands of any other artist, the simple fact that this is Cat Power's third collection of 'Covers' might seem reductive. Yet that's far from the case; the timings involved for one - spread across 20 years, give or take - let each breathe as singular documents, while her role as an interpreter, songwriting evangelist, and performer push each recording to a quite exquisite realm. As such, 'Covers' is far from your ordinary selection of cover versions.
One suspects Chan Marshall expends as much creative energy reworking her favourite songs as she does composing her own. Covers attests to her singular gift for locating a song's emotional core, disentangling a simple motif from its fabric, and caressing into existence an entirely new creation. There is always such reverence for the original compositions - they possess such personal poignancy for her - that it would be futile simply to imitate.